Looking Back at the Yellow Cab Co. of Cleveland

Ralph DiMatteo

Yellow Cab Co. of Cleveland

It has only been about four-and-a-half years since Cleveland’s Yellow Cab Company ceased operations in June of 2017. We would also be willing to wager that if we took to the streets of Cleveland and asked a random group of people, there would be a small amount of them that would be able to tell you anything about the company that had a 90-year run all around town.

The first thing that would probably come to mind about Yellow Cab's demise would be the rise of companies like Lyft and Uber that allow drivers to use their own vehicles to move passengers around. But former owner of Yellow Cab, Brian McBride, said in interviews back in 2017 prior to the closing that that wasn’t really the case.

McBride said it really had more to do with the fact that those startups were not regulated by having to operate under the regulations that his licensed cab company did, as they were classified a bit differently under state law. This allowed Uber, Lyft and others the luxury of not having to actually have their drivers licensed under the same standards Yellow Cab had to adhere to, and the sad fact towards the end was that drivers able to pass the state standards got to be fewer and fewer. McBride also felt that the emergence of self-driving vehicles would be the industry’s biggest threat, but six years later that really hasn’t come to fruition.

Yellow Cab was everywhere, and believe it or not, even at the end of their long run, Yellow Cab still had about a third of the licensed cab business in the Greater Cleveland area, operating as Zone Cab and Westlake Cab as well as Yellow Cab. Cabs were not only yellow, but green, white, and maroon.

Most interesting of all to us was that at their peak in the '40s, Yellow Cab employed over 4,000 people, with 3,000 or so actually employed as drivers. It was considered a very honorable, even somewhat prestigious, profession during that period. To be a professional driver of one of those shiny rolling billboards was a source of pride within your community. In contrast, in June of 2017, at the end, Yellow Cab employed a mere 35 people, with around 290 others listed as self-employed drivers.

If the name McBride sounds familiar to some of you Cleveland sports fans, it’s because Brian McBride’s grandfather, Arthur McBride, who acquired Yellow Cab in 1931, was also the first owner of the Cleveland Browns.

If that wasn’t interesting enough on its own, the term “taxi squad” came about from McBride’s practice of allowing players that were not on the team’s active roster to be listed on the Yellow Cab employment rolls. So if you ever wondered where the term “taxi squad” came from, as the late great Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story."

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